Patent agents work for the intellectual property departments of law firms, the research and development groups within corporations, the legal department of a technology start-up company, or research universities. Some are self-employed and work for private-sector clients. There were 12,343 active patent agents employed in the United States in 2020, as reported by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Patent agents may get their start in the field by working as an intern in the intellectual property department of a law firm or the legal department of a corporation. The USPTO has a student internship and volunteer program, which gives patent students opportunities to get a foot in the door and learn more about the different specializations available for patent agents. Some patent agents may start as assistant patent agents or gain exposure to the work through paralegal work in law firms.
Patent agents who work in legal departments of corporations may advance to senior patent agent roles after three or more years of experience. Those with more than five years of experience may became department managers, responsible overseeing the work of patent agents and support staff. Self-employed patent agents may branch out into other specialty areas. Some share their knowledge by teaching and writing about intellectual property rights. Others get a law degree so they can prosecute patent cases in law courts as well as before the USPTO. Patent agents who are employed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office are promoted according to the government pay scale, advancing to jobs of greater responsibility and higher wages after specified time-frames are met.
Tips for Entry
Learn more about the different practices and services in the patent practitioner field by visiting the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Web Site, https://www.uspto.gov.
Get an internship or part-time job in the legal department or intellectual property department of a corporation.
Volunteer to assist a patent agent or company that handles patent applications for clients.
See what types of inventions are being recognized by visiting the National Inventors Hall of Fame, https://www.invent.org.